Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns says a consortium of public wheat breeders and scientists at 18 universities led by the University of California, Davis, will be awarded more than $5 million to advance technology to rapidly identify genes that may produce higher quality, disease-resistant wheat.

"This research will help U.S. wheat breeders to improve wheat yield, develop drought resistant wheat and help the environment," said Johanns. "We are proud to advance President Bush's goal to help keep America competitive by supporting innovation that will improve our quality of life and strengthen our economy."

Useful quality and production traits on the wheat genome will be marked with a new technology called Marker Assisted Selection. The genomic traits, once marked, are called molecular markers and are landmarks in the chromosome maps that help plant scientists identify specific chromosome segments. Breeders use these markers to increase their precision in selecting the best trait combinations for specific varieties. For example, a plant scientist might mark a combination of genes known to increase resistance to drought. Breeders, who want that quality in their wheat, use that information to know which gene combinations to insert into their wheat line.

Researchers will work with USDA genotyping laboratories to provide analyses of thousands of molecular markers needed to insert the targeted genes into breeding lines. The genetic information will be stored in national databases and seed stocks deposited in USDA's Small Grain Collection, providing long-term public access of genetic information and resources for wheat breeders and researchers nationwide.

The project includes an extensive outreach component to share information about these new technologies with the public and an educational program to attract new students to agriculture and train them in modern and traditional breeding techniques.

USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) administered the award through the National Research Initiative (NRI). It supports research, education and Extension grants that address key problems of national, regional and multi-state importance in sustaining all components of agriculture.

CSREES advances knowledge for agriculture, the environment, human health and well-being, and communities by supporting research, education, and Extension programs in the Land-Grant University System and other partner organizations.

For more information, visit http://www.csrees.usda.gov.